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Monday, October 14, 2019

Cover Spotlight: The Company Of Birds + Q&A with Nerine Dorman (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The Company Of Birds over HERE (US) & HERE (UK) & HERE (Rest Of the world)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Firebird

Ever since I read The Firebird, Nerine Dorman’s entry in the 2018 SPFBO edition. I was enthralled by the plot, the characterization and the world-building ensconced within the novella. It was a refreshing taste of how talented Nerine is and even though The Firebird wasn’t a finalist. I wanted to see what she would write next and was very excited to hear about her next book which would be a full length one. The Company Of Birds is its title and it’s being published by Immanion Press. Nerine showcased the brilliant cover a few days ago and she was even more kind to answer a few questions about it as well as the book below:

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Nerine and thank you for your time. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and can you tell us about your writing journey so far? Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past?

ND: Oh, goodness, the classic question. My very earliest memories involved peering at the spines of the books in my parents' collection. They had these two massive teak bookcases they kept in the lounge, and I remember from a young age being fascinated by the stories locked within – stories that were at first out of my reach. For me books were something magical, and authors were these mystical beings who could take an idea and make it into an object that can be touched, seen and smelt. And I wanted to be an author. Badly. There's a particular kind of vanity attached to the idea that my name will similarly jump out at a person casually browsing a bookshelf.

My writing journey so far has been what I call A Very Long Epic. It's most certainly a calling, a passion, because if I had been doing this for the money, I'd have starved a long, long time ago. I've seen many authors lose their passion for writing because they get caught up in the whirlpool of marketing and sales and Amazon algorithms, and I decided that chasing after that elusive best seller status was not for me.

Storytelling is something that is a vital part of me. So long as we have methods to write and share stories, I'll be telling them – if it means that I can give people a few stolen moments of wonder that can set them dreaming.

Q] The Company Of Birds is a special book for you. It’s being released by Immanion Press which was founded by Storm Constantine. Can you tell us more about how this book came to be selected by them and why this was such a special thing for you?

ND: I got to know Storm through her Wraeththu mythos – a setting which she has so graciously opened up to other writers through the anthologies and novels that she publishes. Her writing is magical and otherworldly, and she's one of the authors I look up to as being one of my guiding lights. She was also the very first editor to write me my very first rejection letter, for my novel Khepera Rising, and over the years I hoped that I would one day write the novel that she would eventually publish.

The Company of Birds is that novel.

I knew I was onto something special with this book, but it's a difficult story, slow-moving, textured. It's about life, death, failed love, regret ... all the things a woman past the first bloom of youth will feel when she starts edging to her middle years. It's not a fantasy novel about dashing heroes or vast, conquering armies. Instead it's more subtle, about the power of friendship, losing your parents, letting go of your past, and of finding your own true voice after allowing others to talk over you for so many years. And how finding your personal truth can lead to earth-shattering consequences. Most importantly, I wrote this book for me, and so far I've found that it's resonated with others who've read it.

Q] As far as titles go, The Company Of Birds is certainly an intriguing one. Can you tell us whether you choose this title or was it suggested by your editor?

ND: I suck at finding book titles, but I'll shamelessly admit to offering a nod at Neil Jordan and Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves. And I'm sure I had more than a few discussions with friends and fellow authors until The Company of Birds stuck.


(Cover art by Æiden Swan & Design/typography by Thomas Dorman)

Q] Let’s talk about the stunning cover that you unveiled a few days ago. Please tell us about the artist and designer and how they collaborated to come up with that gorgeous piece?

ND: I've been a huge fan of Æiden Swan's art for a while now, and when I asked her if she'd collaborate with me and my husband, Thomas Dorman, on it, she was all over the project. Naturally, I was (and still am) thrilled. It's always a bit of a risk doing something different, especially in an industry that relies on the shorthand of cover design to communicate quickly and clearly what the book is about. However, considering that this book is already so far off the beaten track in terms of popular trends in fantasy, I figured I may as well create something special, a work of art.

Now my husband does graphics in the film industry, and he's worked on some pretty big productions like The Dark Tower, Warrior, Maze Runner 3, and The Watch, among others – and he has an eye for typography, colour and composition like it's no one's business. So I was in good hands under his guidance. He did all the heavy lifting, which left me to handle the finer touches of the design.

Q] What were your main pointers for your cover artist & designer as you went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

ND: I told Æiden and Thomas that they had carte blanche (which is important when you're collaborating as opposed to commissioning) – though I supplied both of them with a mood board, and we met up for an hour or so to make sure we were all on the same page. Æiden checked in with a few compositional scamps, and we chose a design that would work best. Because her work is so time-consuming, there were no do-overs, so we had to be sure that we were getting it right. When she was done, Thomas worked his magic with his typography and then image retouching to ensure that we had enough background for the text, and it all went pretty quickly after that. Our focus was to create an engaging visual, and you have to admit there's a certain degree of magnetism in those all-too-human eyes peering at you through the dreamlike owl face.

Q] How did the inception of The Company Of Birds occur? What were some of the inspirations for you during its writing?

ND: Music was big for me. I often find that particular artists will provide the soundtrack while I write – so for me this was a steady diet of Dead Can Dance, Arcana, Wardruna, Heilung, Peter Bjärgö, Danheim and other similar projects. Threaded through this was the idea of the bird messenger – a theme that recurs often enough in my stories. In this case it was a made-up bird – a dusk owl, that looks a little like a silver-grey barn owl. And if anyone's watched Labyrinth, they'll understand why the owl can be so mysterious and enigmatic.

Q] Similar to its ornithological predecessor The Firebird, The Company Of Birds deals with question of identity amidst societal and familial upheaval. What would you say is the thematic and literal core of this story?

ND: Hah! You've got me there. As an author it's difficult to see the forest for the trees in terms of overarching themes that occur in subsequent works. The core of this story is about finding one's true will. It's about second chances, and it's about discovering that each individual, no matter how ordinary, can do extraordinary things if they align themselves with their true will.


(Cover art by Æiden Swan & Design/typography by Thomas Dorman)

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Company Of Birds is set in and some of the book’s major characters? What are the curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

ND: The setting is very much inspired by southern Africa's colonial history – so issues it deals with include colonialism (and inevitably racism) and the distorted society that comes into being where there are no convenient answers to problems. The main character, Liese ten Haven, is already quite progressive in terms of her outlook compared to some of her peers, which causes trouble for her in a largely patriarchal society where she's one of the few who've succeeded in a traditionally male-dominated workplace (an academy of magi).

She feels that she's missed the mark – her husband has just divorced her and she realises she's stuck in an academic post that is going nowhere. But if this was just the story of an incipient mid-life crisis, there wouldn't be much of a novel. Liese crosses paths with a strange tribesman, who sets her on a quest that will change her entire world.

We have soul-shifting bird shamans, fire mages, civil war ... and plenty of academic intrigue (if that can be considered exciting!)

Q] Is The Company Of Birds a standalone story or is it book one of a new series?

ND: Haha, Storm and I had this discussion not so long ago. I'd like for The Company of Birds to stand alone, but the world has such depth and breadth, and I've left threads that I intend to pick up in a year or so. Liese's story has a full arc, and if she does return, her role will be secondary. So, let's (tentatively) say yes, that there may be more, but it's taken me half a decade to reach the point where the book is being unleashed upon the world, and I need a little time to catch my breath.

Q] So what can readers expect from this book and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

ND: This book is strange. It doesn't rush off on fetch quests or great battles. It meanders and it shows you a different world. It's filled with magic and musings.

Also, my proofreader told me that after she read A Certain Scene We Won't Discuss For Fear of Spoilers, she had to go lie down for an hour or so. So expect to have your emotions wrenched a little too.

Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

ND: I'm not going to lie: this was a difficult book to write. From the moment where the plot bunny bit me right through to the point where I sent Storm the final files, this book took TIME. The first draft was easy enough – I had that nailed in a few months. The book went out on sub and did a round on the query mill. So that was another year gone. I happened to mention the book in passing to Storm; she offered to look at it, and less than a week later she sent me a seven-page editor letter. Which promptly took me a year and a half to implement because the book was broken in ways that needed time for me to untangle threads, weave new ones and somehow make it all hang together. And yet it has all worked out, and I'm glad for Storm having seen something special in this story, and for all her patience with my soul searching, late nights and long, mumbled conversations with my friends in the Skolion co-operative as to how I can make this book shine.

This is a heart book. Folks will either love it or leave it, and that's fine with me. For those of you who fall in the former category, thank you for stepping into my world.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*



Order The Company Of Birds over HERE (US) & HERE (UK) & HERE (Rest Of the world)

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Sometimes a hero must burn all she holds dear.

Unrest brews in the city-state of Uitenbach, but its magi continue their work, even though the world outside the hallowed grounds of their academy seems to be tearing itself to pieces.

Newly divorced and still smarting from her philandering ex-husband’s rejection, Maga Liese ten Haven doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. When the mysterious Atroyan tribesman Malagai reveals to Liese that she is the heir to a forbidden magical legacy, she is thrust into a conspiracy that may foment a civil war. If she fails, her magic will consume her.

But what if the only way to right the wrongs her people have done to the Atroyan nation is to sacrifice everything?

A fantasy novel of warring factions in a richly-developed world. Fire magic is outlawed and those who wield it punishable by death. Liese ten Haven, a maga in the city-state of Uitenbech, finds herself in possession of a deadly legacy.

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